Principles for Game Review

This post will be a mixture of theory and help for game reviews. Last week, we had a look at the different levels of strategy, from tricks to strategies. I will briefly revisit some ideas here. The principles that follow now can be used to plan your game before you start, to remember things during a game, but most importantly I use them to efficiently review my games.

Before we start: I am aware that the below principles were not made for X-Wing, which is very luckily different from actual conflicts. There are two reasons why I try to apply them to our favorite tabletop game. First, it’s a fun thing to do for me, however valuable or worthless the result is. Second, there are some bits of knowledge and experience from completely different contexts that can be a useful inspiration.

I will get a little help from armed forces. The English Wikipedia article featuring them is called “principles of war” and I will borrow those of the US military. The ones I learned in my country are almost identical. There are 9 of them and the common acronym seems to be MOSSMOUSE:

  • Mass
  • Objective
  • Simplicity
  • Security
  • Maneuver
  • Offensive
  • Unity of Command
  • Surprise
  • Economy of Force

I will shamelessly repurpose them for X-Wing to the point that they might lose quite a bit of the original meaning. I’ve explicitly mentioned some of them the first time in January, but I had been using them for my reports much longer. I will change the order, too, because I think there is a logical connection between them, and I value that more than a nice acronym.

I will start with objective, simplicity, economy of force, and unity of command. Only the first two are useful for X-Wing game reviews. I group them together because they do have a large component that is also relevant before the game.

Objective

What is your desired end state? Where do you want your mass to take effect? It is true for any “battle” I’ve been in that we can get tunnel vision in a fight. That can be personal, professional, X-Wing, sports, anything really. But every fight has a purpose, you are fighting to achieve a goal, an end state that you desire. We tend to get caught in the heat of the moment and don’t act towards our actual goal anymore. So, ask yourself: what did you want in that game, and did you make decisions that didn’t work towards it? Why did you make these decisions, and how could you have gotten into a situation where you didn’t (feel like you) had to make them? On a large-scale strategic level that could be to make cut, or to simply have fun above all else. The immediate objective on an operational level is to win the game. During a game on the tactical level it could be that you identify a certain next target priority. In fact, this tenet in practice is most often reduced to target priority. Did you follow your target priority? And did you make the right one in the first place?

To give an example: I remember situations where I decided between trying to take out a less important ship with my first volley or shooting at my actual target. Let’s imagine you took a shot with your first ship, and that shot misses without even stripping a token. I usually feel committed to keep shooting that same target, focus fire and mass and all that. But instead you should re-evaluate the situation. What target had you chosen if you had one fewer shot? If it is the same, go ahead. Sometimes, asking that question changes everything. In my example, I likely won’t take out the less important target with the remaining shots. Thus, I really should switch to the actual target instead. But how do you identify the correct target? That’s a topic for its own post.

Say no to tunnel vision, say yes to your objective.

Simplicity

Let me remind you of the UK SOS, round 3. I knew where to place my rock to do a fancy opening. Except I moved the obstacle a bit, Zizi landed on the rock, and that mistake likely cost me the game and possibly the cut. There was no need to try such a fancy opening at a premier event. You can still do it, but you have to know under which circumstances it won’t work. I hadn’t practiced it often, and clearly not often enough. The more you know and the better you are, the fancier your choices can be. I tried to bite off more than I could chew. In a way, simplicity is strongly connected to friction. Friction is “the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult”. You want to minimize frictions as much as possible.
In practice, I review whether I did any fancy stuff that was too risky.

KISS: Keep it simple, stupid.

Economy of force

This is not all that useful for X-Wing, but with a bit of a stretch I see two ways to maybe apply it: preparation/list building and order of attacks. Let’s take a bad list as a really extreme case to illustrate the principle during preparation. Soontir, Col Jendon and Maj Vermeil. An arc-dodger and two support ships. That is probably way too much support. You have a limited amount of points, and you want to get the most out of them. That is in part why we as community gravitate to tried and tested lists where someone already optimized the build. A good list allows you to use the points in the most effective way possible and allocates a minimum of points to secondary efforts.
An example during a game: Let’s take the BigXXXDeal. Your ideal attack are 4 double modified range one shots into the same target, right? Let’s say the target is an X-Wing at i1. Except that is not always ideal. You would have a 96% chance of dealing 6 damage after 3 attacks. It is very likely that your 4th shot will be into something else. So, that 4th shot should be Finn because he does not have a target lock and can choose his target freely, unlike Bastian who gets his lock when damage is dealt. And you should also make sure that the 4th ship has another possible target! Part of economy of force is to use as much as necessary – and as little as possible! In this extreme example, the list might have wasted an action (if a lock was lost on the destroyed ship) or an entire shot if there is no other target available.

Don’t waste points, and don’t waste shots or actions.

Unity of Command/Unity of Effort

This is not that useful for X-Wing, the only applicable parts are also found in other principles. The idea is that all parts should be under one commander (ok: you, the player) and should follow the same objective (ok: objective). There is obviously a bit more to it, but I don’t see any relevant connection to X-Wing that isn’t also covered somewhere else.

The next four are more relevant in the moment. Security and Surprise form to sides of the same coin. Offensive and Maneuver are a bit of a stretch for X-Wing, but I found them to be useful.

Security

There are two aspects of security in X-Wing. One consists of your own mistakes, your risk appetite. I still remember that tournament game where I took a huge risk to do a fancy flyby maneuver. I knew that missing it would pretty much lose me the game, and I tried anyway. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Instead, take both the impact and the likelihood of a decision into account. Part of that is how greedy you spend your tokens. Do you really need to spend that focus on offense for two more hits when the return shot can mean a dead ship?
The second one is to deny your opponent. Don’t jump into kill-boxes, don’t allow your opponent to focus fire, don’t let him surprise you.
Ask yourself after a game: did you?

Give yourself some safety margin.

Surprise

I see three types of surprises in a game, on three different levels. Let’s take this made up example of Rey with Korr Sella. She runs over a debris, removes the stress with her crew, and then boosts to arc dodge some arcs to get the shot on Wedge that she wants.

First are tricks, rules interactions that a player wasn’t aware of. Rey can remove the debris stress after a blue maneuver because she carries Korr Sella. That allows her to boost again and dodge two arcs, obstruct the shot from Cassian, and get a nice shot on Wedge.
Second are tactics, maneuver choices. Going over the debris would seem like a stupid, reckless move. In this arbitrary situation however, it might have taken the rebel player by surprise and messed up their opening engagement.
Third is strategy. Rey wants to trick the rebel player into a bad engagement by faking an approach through the middle. She engineered her perfect engagement which likely allows her to take half of Wedge at a 54% chance. In return, she has a good chance (73%) of taking zero damage from Wedge.

I also have an example below from an actual game. It wasn’t as artificial, so Rey only dodged two arcs, but it was definitely an important part of the game:

Leia reduced the difficulty of the 2hard from Rey to blue. That allowed Rey to boost after moving over the debris and get a nice range1 shot onto Obi-Wan while dodging two arcs.

When I review a game, I mainly look out for tactical level surprises. The other two stand out enough to be memorable if they occur.

Give it a twist!

Offensive

My training differs slightly in this point and sounds definitely less cool: freedom of action. The idea is very similar, and it is to take initiative and force your game on your opponent. I don’t want to make it more complicated. We could adapt idea of strategic offensive with tactical defense into X-Wing with e.g. high initiative arc-dodgers. Force your game on the opponent (strategic offensive) while reacting to their exact position with your double reposition at perfect information (tactical defense). How do you do this? I don’t really know. Hyper aggression seems to work. But I never really managed to do it with subtle nudges. Actually, that’s not quite true. I remember some games against newer players where It worked. But I can’t do it against the average player or better.

Seize the initiative!

Maneuver

Again, a small difference for me as we call it flexibility. For X-Wing, I keep it simple and use this point to review the actual maneuver choices during a game. I would review it on two levels again, tactical and strategic. If you zoom in, simply check if you made the correct choice. A 1bank when a 2bank was better? Maybe you dialed in a 3 talon roll when you knew a 3 hard lands on the rock? Just review your choices. It can be as simple as order of movement.
On a zoomed out, strategic level though you look at the options you left yourself. How flexible were you, how much did you allow yourself to adapt to new situations? What were the large-scale movements? The principle of the last responsible moment is very useful. Wait for as long as you possibly can and see where your opponent commits (On a tactical level. Remember – you act, they react strategically speaking).
And in a third sense, this would also include what maneuver choices you left your opponent! That is more high-level play to actively and intentionally shape the options of your opponent, and I barely do so myself. But if I did then I would review it here.
So for me after a game, I go through my choices on both small and large scale. There is always at least one that was not ideal.

Wait with your commitment, stay flexible.

Mass

It all comes down to this: advantageous concentration of combat power in space and time. Your objective is to put the necessary and sufficient number of arcs on the same target. You want to do that without unnecessary friction and in a favorable engagement, taking the initiative while retaining the ability to react to your opponent. All the other 8 help you to achieve mass in hopefully the best possible way.
Firepower is a consequence of mass. Mass without firepower is irrelevant or at best a deceptive threat. In X-Wing, the two can be treated synonymously. I would even argue that firepower is the better word because we do not need physical vicinity of ships, only convergence of firing arcs. If formations help you doing that, fine. If you can do it without the need of formations, then even better. Also, it’s called mass and not numbers because the quality is an important factor. How many shots with how many dice each and how well modified? At what range and against what defensive mods?

Focus fire on the target, time, and place that you want!

Conclusion

To recap, I primarily use objective to review my target priority but also to check whether I got tunnel vision, and whether I had my goal in mind – I want points in the end. Simplicity reminds me that I shouldn’t go for the complicated maneuvers or the fancy mind games. Security is related and I use it to look at my opponent’s kill boxes as well as my token spending and risk appetite in general. Surprise can happen on different levels, but the most frequent one for me is the tactical surprise when I make the fancy, risky maneuver that Simplicity- and SecurityBro really don’t like. The offensive tells me to look at my options and whether I even had any. Then a quick look at my actual maneuver choices. And finally: focus fire! How well did I concentrate my mass?

And finally an example from a battle report:

  • I did stick to my objective. First I focused Holo down, then Vonreg. And finally Kylo, but only because I had to. I can’t runt for 9 turns out of 15…
  • The focus fire was rather bad! Only turns 2 and 6 were focused on the respective ships. Turn 3 had the really bad maneuver choices, and turn 5 was very nicely done by my opponent.
  • A simple plan for a simple man. Much better than last time: contract onto the middle and shoot at a /ba. Maybe too simple without enough thought for the next step, and that might have caused the mess-up with Tallie in turn 3.
  • Security was so-so, or even bad. Kylo had to alternate shots between BSR and Ronith. Putting Greer into the box was stupid, but I thought she would survive at least one… And I didn’t see the 1hard + roll + daredevil 1hard, to be honest. And this point includes how often I was surprised. If the answer is “quite often” then it was not good.
  • Maneuverability was good I think, again with the exception of turn 3.
  • In turn, I surprised my opponent at least towards the end. I deliberately changed my approach after turn 6, and that took him off guard – that’s a success.

I hope that helps you to review your games as much as it helps me. Until next time!

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